How New Emmy Changes Will (or Won’t) Impact Our Favorite TV Shows


Now that the Academy Awards have aired and the ensuing think piece aftermath has died down, we’re living in a culture pergatory. There is a long way to go until the conversation around movies becomes worthwhile, since the cinematic landscape is rather dull until the summer blockbuster season begins. And there is precious little left of the currently airing television shows until late-Spring shows like Game of Thrones and Mad Men come back. March is just bleak.

Fortunately for us, right on the heels of the Oscar telecast, the Television Academy announced some rather significant changes to The Emmy Awards. The Emmys presented a rather lax rule structure in the past, leading to a good amount of confusion around the categorization and nomination of shows. So with little else to talk about now that movies like Hot Tub Time Machine 2 are in theatres, let’s take some time to uncover the implications of these new rules.

The number of nominees in each of the comedy and drama categories has increased from six to seven.

The increase of nominees feels right in the New Golden Age of Television, though one more doesn’t feel like it’ll do much. There’s never been more quality programming to watch than right now, so what would make more sense is for the Emmy’s to go the way of the Academy Awards and allow for ten nominees to take part in the major categories.

Still, additional nominees are not likely to make a difference if the same shows get nominated (and win) each year. With a medium that is becoming increasingly less stagnant, the Emmy’s should really move away from predictability. If they’re going to award Modern Family a sixth Emmy, that extra nominee won’t matter at all.

Say what you will about the fickleness of the Golden Globe winners in television each year, it is admirable that they rarely reward a show that’s been around for more than two or three seasons. If the Emmy’s purpose is to boost viewership (which all award shows are), recognizing new shows should become a priority.

Comedies are now considered shows whose length does not exceed 30 minutes, and dramas are considered shows longer than 30 minutes. 

This should clear things up. The distinction between a series’ length of time is something that now seems obvious. It’s hard to pinpoint an hour-long comedy or a half-hour-long drama, isn’t it?

One of the shows likely to be affected will be Orange is the New Black, which campaigned to be considered a comedy in its first eligible year. Apparently it felt like it could take Modern Family over Breaking Bad. But really, it feels out of place in either category. Certainly fans of OINTB would claim it’s more a drama than a comedy, but I don’t think its new drama distinction will give it the push it needs to overtake Mad Men‘s final season, or other likely nominees, Game of Thrones and House of Cards.

What really needs to be added, but probably never will, is a Dramedy category. OINTB would fit right in. As would HBO newcomer Togetherness, a half-hour long show that, if up for nomination, would now have to be shoehorned into the comedy category even though it doesn’t fit snugly into either genre.

A caveat to this new distinction is that a show’s producers can petition to get it considered in the category of their choosing. It’ll be fun to see what shows will try to skirt around the rules. Downton Abbey as a comedy?! No one will see it coming.

“Mini-Series” will now be known as “Limited Series,” with extra rules applied.

According to the official press release, the new label “Limited Series” is “defined as programs of two or more episodes with a total running time of at least 150 program minutes that tell a complete, non-recurring story, and do not have an ongoing storyline and/or main characters in subsequent seasons.”

Oh, Ryan Murphy is kicking himself now. The showrunner of America Horror Story has seen Emmy success in previous years: eight wins in numerous mini-series categories. Last year, RMurph made the decision to claim that all of the AHS seasons are connected. While I think it’s a load of shit in an attempt to make the show more buzz-worthy, in claiming their connectivity, he brought back three major characters from AHS: Asylum and shoved them into AHS: Freak Show.

There is some room to debate here, but from where I’m sitting American Horror Story is no longer eligible to compete in the new “limited series” category. So while each new season will likely tell a complete story, the damage has already been done on the “non-recurring, ongoing storyline with major characters in subsequent seasons” front. And with that, there’s no way AHS can compete with other nominees in the drama category.

Yikes. Talk about backfiring. There are few existing shows that this new rule will affect like American Horror Story, but it will set the tone for newer anthology shows like True Detective and Fargo. Don’t try cheap tricks, kids!

A “Guest Actor” is someone appearing in less than 50% of a show’s episodes.

The cheapest Emmy trick of them all came in the form of the “guest actor” categories. There is little evidence to prove that this distinction had a rule before this new one, but why should it have one, right? I mean, isn’t a “guest actor” is someone who is shows up once, maybe twice?

Not to producers looking to get their shows recognized by any means necessary. Uzo Aduba, or Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black, was nominated as  guest actor. Twice. And won last year.

Listen, love OINTB. Love Crazy Eyes. But that is just straight up unfair. Taylor Schilling as Piper may be considered the “lead” of the show, but the rest of the cast, including Crazy Eyes, are unequivically supporting characters. Kate Mulgrew’s performance as Red was nominated in the Supporting Actress in a Comedy category last year. Is Red really a larger character than Crazy Eyes?

So, no, Uzo Aduba should not be nominated as a guest actor. Neither should Melissa McCarthy or Kristen Wiig or any other host of SNL. Which leads into the next new rule…

The Variety Series category is split into Variety Talk and Variety Sketch.

This new distinction will be a breath of fresh air. Each year, the list of nominees for Variety Series looks almost exactly the same, typically including the major late night talk shows. With the exception of The Colbert Report‘s wins from the last two years, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart won in this category ten years in a row.

What will likely happen is all of the nominees that have been in the Variety Series category will transfer over to the Variety Talk category, leaving room for shows like Portlandia, Key and Peele and maybe even Comedy Bang! Bang! to be recognized in the Variety Sketch category.

Unfortunately, the Variety Sketch category will be pushed into the Creative Arts Emmy Awards, which do not air on the big night in question. So what good is it doing, really?

Now for the real problem! There’s a hiccup that occurs between acting nominees for variety shows: they don’t exist. Hosts of Saturday Night Live can be nominated within the Guest Actor in a Comedy Series category (refer to the aforementioned McCarthy and Wiig), even though SNL‘s Emmy label is “Variety Series.”

The larger trouble this causes is that actors in a variety series, like Fred Armisen or Carrie Brownstein for instance, can never be nominated for their performances simply because they don’t have a category to be placed in. They certainly can’t be placed in the Guest Actor/Actress in a Comedy Series, because they’re (obviously) in more than 50% of the show and because Portlandia is not considered a Comedy in the Emmy sense (it’s been nominated under the Variety Series umbrella in the past.) However, a small part by Steve Buschemi can garner that Guest Actor nod because he was in one episode of Portlandia.

I’m not necessarily asking for another four categories to be announced, but a little consistency would be helpful here.

Lots more people can vote.

This doesn’t have any direct implications for shows, and I’m still not entirely sure how it actually works. There’s an initial round of voting to determine what shows are nominated, then a second round of voting to determine who wins. I don’t know why everyone who voted in the first round couldn’t vote in the second round, but it doesn’t seem like that was previously the case.

Regardless, if the voting process changes anything, we won’t see it until the actual nominations come out. If it does make a difference, we may see different shows winning this September.

Though the Emmys have a long way to go in accomodating a quickly changing television landscape, it’s important that they’re taking steps to recognize those changes. It’s an exciting time for television and award shows have to keep up.

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